CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Health officials in
Alberta confirmed Friday that there are more cases of cancer
than expected in a small aboriginal village downstream from the
Canadian province's massive oil sands plants, but they said
there was no cause for residents to be alarmed.
Residents of the village of Fort Chipewyan, a one-time
trading post on the northeast shore of Lake Athabasca, say oil
sands developments may be responsible for rare bile-duct
cancers first spotted by a doctor in the community in 2006.
Those complaints sparked a study by Alberta health
authorities, which released the results Friday.
The study said that while the incidence of the rare cancer
cholangiocarcinoma was higher than expected, only two of the
six cases reported by the community's doctor were confirmed,
while three were other types of cancer, and one was not cancer
However, the study found 47 individuals in the community
had 51 different cancers over the 1995 to 2006 study period,
more that the 39 cases health officials had expected to find.
"The overall findings show no cause for alarm," said Dr.
Tony Fields, a vice-president at Alberta Health Services. "But
they do, however, point to the need for some more
The village is about 260 kilometres (160 miles) north of
Fort McMurray, where a number of projects have been established
to mine the oil sands, as part of the process that converts the
tar-like bitumen stripped from the sand into synthetic crude
Lake Athabasca is fed by the Athabasca River, which flows
through the project region, and earlier studies have found
unsafe levels of arsenic, mercury and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbon in the lake's fish, as well as in sediments, water
While oil sands producers use large amounts of water to
produce the crude, contaminated wastes are kept on-site and are
not released into the river.
Fields said the higher than expected number of cancer cases
in Fort Chipewyan could be due to chance, increased detection,
or lifestyle and environmental risks. He said more monitoring
of the community is needed to see if the higher number of
cancers is a trend.
The results of the study did not assuage community
officials, who say they have not been provided with a copy of
"We haven't seen it," said Steve Courtoreille, a councilor
with the Mikisew Cree First Nation and chairman of the Nunee
Health Board Society. "We've asked for it so our doctors can
critique but they caught us off guard. It's not going to show
the real picture ...There is a problem here."
Alberta Health Services said the study's findings were
reviewed by independent experts and two Canadian aboriginal
(Editing by Peter Galloway)